29th August 2017

The name of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research is indicative of the overall area of our expertise, but the extent to which “crime” has often been spotlighted, in contrast to the “justice” component of our work, is telling.

Indeed, in its early days, SCCJR was sometimes referred to as the “crime centre”.  While our work is indeed located within criminology and criminal justice, the centrality of “crime” obscures the wider and deeper concerns that unite us around “justice”.

This may be partly due to the elusive nature of justice and the very ambiguity of what it means; as well as uncertainty about the extent to which meanings of justice are shared both across and within academic disciplines and professional practices.

The second phase in the development of SCCJR has brought in a new management team and continuing opportunities to build on the founding principles shaping the contribution that SCCJR continues to make in Scotland and internationally. This has included an enthusiasm to connect our work to wider concerns around justice and how we might be able to contribute to a developing agenda for a just society.

Our wider focus on justice moves the debate beyond the confines of the criminal justice system

This wider focus on justice moves the debate beyond the confines of the criminal justice system, as SCCJR attempted to do from the outset, to consider broader questions of economic, social and political justice, and to explore what a just society would require to exist. Many of us within SCCJR aspire to developing research that can contribute to the creation of a just society and are determined to work in partnership with other groups and individuals to support the development of a Scotland based on these principles.

Various projects led by both academic staff and post-graduate researchers across SCCJR have explored the concept of justice; our website and annual reports over the years are testament to this.

One such project at the University of Stirling considered the landscape of activist activities across Scotland that had emerged or were consolidated in the atmosphere of the 2014 Scottish Referendum. We explored how individuals and groups were civically and politically engaged at this time and how they attached meaning to the concept of justice. We asked participants to consider what influence a seemingly expanded civic engagement had on wider understandings of justice.

We found that justice was referred to in terms of the economic (ownership and distribution of economic resources) and social (the distribution of rights) echoing the politics of redistribution and recognition outlined by Nancy Fraser (2013)[1]; with participation or active citizenship seen by many respondents as a requirement for addressing structural disadvantage and the creation of an environment where social, economic and cultural rights were recognised.

We are continuing this work and, in partnership with Galgael, plan to co-ordinate a workshop that sets out to discuss a positive agenda for justice. The event will take place on October 27 in Glasgow and will bring academics and community-based activists together to share their ideas and develop proposals to continue this work. Further details will be made available shortly.

Margaret Malloch, University of Stirling

[1] Nancy Fraser (2013) ‘Social Justice in the Age of Identity Politics: Redistribution, Recognition and Participation’ in N. Fraser and A. Honneth, Redistribution or Recognition: A Political-Philosophical Exchange, London: Verso.

Justice, Civic Engagement and the Public Sphere: Mapping Democratic Transformations in Scottish Society was funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme.